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Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system debuts on Wednesday, as the longtime leader in PC software hopes that giving the upgrade away for free will help it carve out a new role in a world where people increasingly rely on smartphones, tablets and information stored online.

The company is counting on tens or even hundreds of millions of people to download its latest release in the coming months, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Many people will also get Windows 10 as part of new PCs. The launch will be accompanied by a global marketing campaign for an event the company hopes will be pivotal — both for its own future and for a vast audience of computer users around the world.

Windows 10 is coming to PCs and tablets first, but it’s also designed to run phones, game consoles and even holographic headsets. It has new features, a streamlined Web browser called Edge and a desktop version of Cortana, the online assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri.

Still, the company insists Windows 10 will seem familiar to users of Windows 7, the six-year-old operating system still running on most PCs. Microsoft and PC makers want to erase the memory of the last big update, 2012’s Windows 8, which alienated many with its jarring, unwieldy design.

Microsoft skipped the name Windows 9, as if to distance itself further from the last release. While many analysts believe Windows 8 made sagging PC sales even worse, it’s unclear if Windows 10 will spur the industry back to growth.

Some of the key features of Windows 10 are:

New Microsoft Edge browser lets people quickly browse, read, and mark up and share the Web
The integrated Xbox app delivers the Xbox experience to Windows 10
Continuum optimizes apps and experiences beautifully across touch and desktop modes.
Built-in apps include photos; maps; Microsoft’s new music app, Groove; and movies & TV. With OneDrive, files can be easily shared and kept up-to-date across all devices.
A Microsoft Phone Companion app enables iPhones, Android or Windows phones to work seamlessly with Windows 10 devices.
The new Office Mobile apps for Windows 10 tablets are available from Wednesday in the Windows Store.Built for work on-the-go, the Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps offer a touch-first experience for small tablets.

Information on upgrading, new and compatible devices, and apps for Windows can be found at http://www.windows.com